I was once thrown into the Salt River by a guy named Damian. I forgave this because he is a cool dude with good taste in movies. Then, I heard he was doing something REALLY COOL that did not involve throwing women into rivers.
Damian will be embarking on a one-year, 19,000-mile bike trip from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, all the way to the bottom of the world: Ushuaia, Argentina. He will be doing this solo ride to help raise public awareness of the benefits that regular exercise offers to those battling mental illness. He will raise money for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, specifically their “Hearts and Minds” campaign.
As a diagnosed depressive, how could I not get behind this project? Damian already has two amazing sponsors: Caledonia Spirits and Hero Apicus Nutrition. They’ve been a huge help, but he still needs more funding to make this trip happen.
To donate, head to Damian’s GoFundMe site. For more about this super cool dude and his mission to support mental health awareness, read on …
An H and Five Ws with NAMI Advocate Damian Reusch
How did you come up with the idea for this solo bike adventure?
I wanted to undertake what I considered to be a transformative journey, one that would compare with the “Great American” adventures that used to fill novels and dime store magazines, before advancements in technology seemingly shrank the world to a more user-friendly size.
I have always felt, as the world I live in became more and more connected, a sense of increasing disconnection. I have longed for an experience that will allow me to rediscover the awe I knew as a child, the wonder and fascination I only knew from the books I read and a life I imagined. I have grown tired of living inwardly, with the incessant concern for professional and personal growth … I wanted to live outwardly for a bit, to have focus on a goal outside my personal narrative and perhaps in the process bring back some measure of connection through its fulfillment.
I decided to choose a charity that I felt a connection with and endeavor to begin a journey that people could identify with, and be excited by. People love a story, and though there are fewer today, they especially love adventure stories. I thought that would be an interesting way to try to rekindle people’s spirit of fascination with the world at large, while at the same time raise money for an important and often overlooked cause. The Pan American Highway is the world’s longest motorable road… so why not ditch the car and bike it?
What is your inspiration?
My greatest inspiration is the world as a whole. I remember a few years ago, I was in Austin visiting some friends. They took me to an overlook that was situated over a river next to a roadway. I imagine most people climb up there for a view of a sunset, or the rolling hills, or the slowly crawling river below … but I couldn’t take my eyes off the road and the cars driving on it.
I had been thinking a lot about the idea of a personal narrative, how we are all the stars of our own story, and how constrictive that mentality can be. I began to imagine a sort of story board, drawn like a circuit with lines extending out of each passenger. Each line led to a box, each box splintered into another possibility, and each possibility splintered to another and so on … constantly changing with each passing second, constantly evolving, fracturing, and expanding outward.
That is the world I wish to see, so I see it. An explosion of stories, intertwining and unraveling at every moment, most of it unobserved potential. My narrative became less interesting knowing all that potential was out there waiting for a catalyst to bring so much to fruition.
A trip like this will most likely not bring any measure of “traditional” success, but it will drop me in the center of that stew of unrealized story lines.
What do you hope to achieve?
I hope to have an incredible journey, to experience the world in its most raw form, to meet incredible people and for a moment experience their story. I hope to raise money for a great cause that benefits people who in their own way may feel as lost or disconnected as myself.
Where are you most excited to go?
Ushuaia, Argentina. That will mean I have completed the journey successfully.
When did you realize you had you own mental health issues?
I realized at a very young age. It manifested itself as a reaction to the profound disappointment I had in the people around me, in their inability to see the long view, the larger picture. I became frustrated at first, slowly mired in anger, then boom. I was diagnosed with what is called Intermittent Explosive Disorder. I have never been medicated. I have always found that all of my frustration can be mitigated through an active lifestyle. At times I am obsessively active; at times I struggle. But I am lucky in that I know what I need to maintain a positive balance. That is why I relate so well to the NAMI “Hearts and Minds” Campaign.
Why is mental health so important?
Throughout history, mental illness has been treated like possession or witchcraft, rather than like an illness, which is why it still carries the stigma it does today. The brain is an organ, but it is an organ we lack critical understanding of. That lack of understanding can lead to confusion and eventual disassociation rather than acceptance and healing. We are a thousand steps behind where we should be with regard to the treatment of mental illness, and we are there because of the lack of an open dialogue. The first step is to drive awareness. Mental health should be no more taboo than an infection or a genetic disorder.
I am so, so proud of Damian’s mission. It’s time we all supported him and mental health awareness. Head to GoFundMe right now and become part of the solution. Thank you!